Guide to Tarragona

Situated 51 miles to the south-west of Barcelona, Tarragona is famous for its treasure trove of Roman ruins, traditional cuisine, impressive architecture, and idyllic beaches.

I first visited Tarragona for a couple of weeks in the months of November and December, and the weather was still sunny and warm almost every day.

A small city of about 130,000 people, Tarragona has a calmer atmosphere than Barcelona, but offers a wealth of cultural attractions.

Tarragona Amphitheatre

Tarragona Amphitheatre

Established in 27 BC, Tarragona was called Tarraco in Roman times and it is the oldest Roman settlement on the Iberian Peninsula.

It became the capital of Hispania Tarraconensis, which covered much of the northern, eastern and central territories of modern Spain.

The Tarragona Amphitheatre was built in the 2nd century AD during the reign of Emperor Augustus, and was used for gladiatorial contests and other public spectacles. It could accommodate around 15,000 spectators.

The Archaeological Ensemble of Tarraco has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Center. It consists of 14 monuments, which include the Circus, the Wall, the Colonial forum, the Roman Theatre, the Amphitheatre, and the Ferreres Aqueduct.

Tarragona Cathedral

Tarragona Cathedral is the largest in Catalonia. Its construction began in 12th century on the site of a former Roman temple.

The building went through several architectural styles, resulting in a unique blend of Gothic and Romanesque influences. The cathedral was finally completed in the 14th century.

You can visit the interior of the cathedral, the cloister, and the Diocesan museum. A guided tour also allows you to see the bell tower, which reaches a height of 70 meters and contains 19 cast bells.

The Roman Aqueduct

The Roman Aqueduct, known as Les Ferreres Aqueduct or Pont del Diable (Devil’s Bridge), is situated 4KM north of the city.

It is thought to have been built in the first century AD, during the reign of the Emperor Augustus. The original Roman aqueduct ran for over 25KM, carrying water from the river Francoli into the city of Tarraco.

It’s possible to walk along the top of the aqueduct, which is as high as 27 metres (89 feet) above ground and stretches for 249 metres (817 feet).

Colonial Forum

Built in approximately 30 BC, the Colonial Forum was the center of social and political life in Tarraco.

Ruins of the basilica remain, a building with three naves that held the court of justice and was sometimes used for meetings of the city council.

The Colonial forum of Tàrraco is situated in a residential neighborhood, near the Mercat Central de Tarragona.

Tarragona Beaches

Tarragona’s beaches are famous for their fine, golden sand and clean water. Playa El Miracle is the most central but it’s worth the short journey northward to Playa de Arrabassada (about 5km from the city center).

In the province of Tarragona, L’Arrabassada, De la Móra, Savinosa, and Tamarit beaches have been awarded the Blue Flag for excellence.

Part Alta

The historic neighborhood Part Alta is situated within the Roman and Medieval walls.

The Tarragona Cathedral stands in the center and is surrounded and an abundance of restaurants, cafes and bars.

Part Alta is home to Tarragona’s most important museums. The Museu d’Art Modern de Tarragona shows works by Joan Miró and Julio Antonio in three connected 18th-century houses.

You can also see breathtaking Roman mosaics at the National Archaeological Museum of Tarragona on Plaça del Rei.

El Serrallo

Tarragona’s fishing tradition has roots dating back to the thirteenth century. El Serrallo is the historic maritime district, with original fishermen’s homes and fabulous places to eat seafood.

The strip of restaurants on Carrer de Trafalgar overlook the fishing boats and are full of life on the weekend.

In Marina Port Tarraco you can also see an impressive collection of superyachts.

Local Gastronomy

Regional specialties include Xató, a sauce made with almonds, hazelnuts, breadcrumbs, vinegar, garlic, olive oil, salt, and the nyora pepper. It is often served with an endive salad prepared with anchovy, tuna and dried and salted cod.

Zarzuela is a comforting seafood stew with ground almonds and saffron. The dish is named after a genre of Spanish musical theatre that blends different styles of music and dance.

The Clotxa is a traditional sandwich of Tarragona province that uses hollowed out rustic bread, filled with herrings, sardines, garlic, onion and roasted tomatoes.

Tarragona Restaurants

Tarragona has an outstanding selection of restaurants.

El Vergel is the first vegetarian restaurant in the city, situated in a beautiful open space on Carrer Major leading up to the Cathedral.

Barquet, in the Eixample neighborhood, has served the traditional cuisine of Tarragona for three generations. Seafood paella is the signature dish.

The seaside El Serrallo neighborhood is home to the highly rated El Pòsit del Serrallo, La Xarxa and L’Àncora del Serrallo restaurants.


Like Sitges, its neighbor to the north, Tarragona is home to several major festivals.

The Tarragona International Dixieland Festival takes place in April. The Dixieland style of jazz is based on the music that developed in New Orleans around the turn of the 20th century. The festival features concerts and activies in theatres, bars, restaurants and open air venues.

Tarraco Viva is a historical reenactment festival that highlights the Roman heritage of Tarragona. It usually takes place in May.

The Santa Tecla Festival is held annually in September. The week-long festival includes traditional, festive and gastronomic events. You’ll be abe to see the famous human towers (castells), parades and dances in the streets.

Day Trips from Tarragona

Reus, the Priorat Wine Region, and the Monestir de Poblet are great destinations for day trips.

Reus used to be the second most important city in Catalonia and is full of modernist treasures, like Casa Navàs and Institut Pere Mata, both designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner.

About a half-hour drive from Tarragona, Poblet is definitely worth a visit. This monastery was the first of three sister monasteries, known as the Cistercian triangle.

Pictured above: the Carthusian Monastery of Scala Dei and villages in the Priorat comarca.

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